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9 of Spades: Clint Hocking, Ubisoft Montreal
One of the best [possibly apocryphal] industry stories of recent years surrounds FarCry 2, when it was discovered that this perpetual living world, led in its construction by creative director Clint Hocking, could burn to the ground. The story goes that a tester set a fire in the game's forest, and then went for lunch.
When he came back, he learned that the fire had spread through the whole world, killing the final "boss" in under two hours. Though the game has since been tweaked, that's what a living world is all about -- and Hocking, previously instrumental to the Splinter Cell series, is leading that particular charge.
8 of Spades: Mark Jacobs, Mythic Entertainment
Jacobs has presided over an already-impressive 750,000 subscriber haul for his studio's newest MMO title, Warhammer Online, not distracted by the Dark Age of Camelot creators' acquisition by Electronic Arts. Not only that, he's opinionated and passionate in public -- unusual for an executive in today's PR-removed market.
Following the removal of 400 people farming for gold on Warhammer's servers, he posted on his blog: "I hate goldfarmers with every fiber of my being." Whether right or wrong (and probably right), this kind of public passion is often lacking in today's game biz.
7 of Spades: Dylan Cuthbert, Q Games
Relatively obscure in the West until the launch of the PixelJunk games on the PS3's PlayStation Network, Cuthbert's Kyoto-based studio has close relationships with both Sony and Nintendo, working on elements of the PS3 operating system and on StarFox DS.
But by spearheading his Japanese studio to work on a largely Western medium (downloadable console games) and make it work, most recently with the transcendent PixelJunk Eden, Cuthbert deserves a place on this list.
6 of Spades: Ken Levine, 2K Boston
After BioShock debuted in late 2007, the reverberations of its unconventional original IP success impacted the industry more than you might guess. The game has one of the more sophisticated narrative structures of any released so far, in its integration of visual, oral, and textual storytelling into the actual gameplay.
With 2K Marin working on the sequel, and the movie version fast-tracked, plus creator Levine now working on a mysterious new project, his influence has not diminished.
5 of Spades: Mark Beaumont, Capcom
Of all the Japanese-headquartered publishers operating in the West, Capcom perhaps has the most invigorating autonomy from its bosses back East. Beaumont is taking great advantage of this, thanks to a major digital download initiative spawning titles like Age of Booty, and is funding Western-developed titles such as Bionic Commando and Dark Void.
Most impressively, a robust blog, community, and fanbase are letting Capcom's classic Japanese franchises breathe and flourish, even as the West grows stronger.
4 of Spades: Alex Ward, Criterion Games
Burnout Paradise is blazing new trails for an extended life of downloadable content, thanks to the "Year of Burnout" promotion. Sure, there's been plenty of DLC before, but so comprehensive, well-planned, and advertised in advance?
Not so much, and thanks to Ward and his team, many players have been convinced to buy and hold onto his title, awaiting the extra vehicles, motorbike additions, new levels, modes, and more. Its status as one of the first formerly full-price titles to blaze into extended sales on PlayStation Network further cements Burnout Paradise's -- and Ward's -- status as a trailblazer.
3 of Spades: Jonathan Blow, Number-None
Jon Blow, the creator of breakthrough XBLA title Braid, is a wonderfully unvarnished game creator -- one who is willing to voice his opinion, no matter what the reaction may be. But it turns out he's got the chops to back it up.
His latest title, Braid, tackles emotions and relationships in a very circuitous but interesting way -- appropriate for a rather complicated fellow like Blow. The lesson here? When you are beholden to no one, and make your games yourself, you can speak your mind without repercussions, and truly advance them as entertainment.
2 of Spades: Sarah Chudley, Bizarre Creations
Not only one of the UK's top developers, Bizarre Creations' acquisition by Activision has cemented its place as an important game creator at multiple levels, headed by Chudley and colleagues.
From the landmark downloadable Geometry Wars series, through the Project Gotham Racing franchise and whatever new racing titles the company may develop under Activision's wing, even partial miss-steps such as The Club haven't dampened the cutting edge at Bizarre Creations. Long may it continue.